The Long View 2007-09-14: The General and His Enemies; Tolkien's Geopolitics; The Final Twilight

David PetraeusBy Darren Livingston - Central Intelligence Agency, Public Domain,

David Petraeus

By Darren Livingston - Central Intelligence Agency, Public Domain,

That “General Betray-us” thing was a skilled bit of political invective. I still remember it more than a decade later.

The General and His Enemies; Tolkien's Geopolitics; The Final Twilight

General Petraeus's spokesperson addressed the nation last night. Great fan though Peggy Noonan is of Petraeus and all his works, as she shows again today in her Opinion Journal column, she was disenthused about the president's remarks:

As for the president's speech on Thursday night, it managed to seem both wooden and manipulative, which is a feat. For days conservative commentators had warned that the president should leave the week where it was, and not put on it his distinctive stamp. They were right. He said "the character of our people" is being revealed as we choose whether to back the Iraq endeavor. He said he would "explain" recent events there. He said the mission "will evolve." It will. It has.

No, the president had to speak. You had to be a political junky to follow Petraeus's congressional testimony closely, so the president needed to make it common knowledge that he was accepting the general's recommendations. Petraeus's testimony succeeded in framing the debate as an argument between the proposition that we should begin withdrawing because we are winning and the proposition that we should begin withdrawing because we are losing. The public will go with the first proposition, I think. As a practical matter so will the Congressional Democrats, even if they have to say differently in public in order to keep their campaign contributions coming in. The actual enactment of a Congressionally mandated withdrawal or redefinition of the war would mean that the Democrats would own the outcome in Iraq. I rather doubt it they want that.

As for the withdrawal plans put forward by the Democratic presidential candidates, I am chiefly struck by the fact that none of the candidates seem to have ever heard the principle, "no plan survives contact with the enemy." Someone should tell Barack Obama in particular that there is no need for him to try to appear judicious by allowing that troops would always be necessary in Iraq in order to guard the American Embassy. In reality, if his automatic-pilot withdrawal plan were implemented, there won't be an embassy in a few months, no more than there is in Somalia.

* * *

The best-known hit piece on General Petraeus was that "General Betray Us" item put out by Less known and much nastier was this article by Gareth Porter, an old pro-Soviet revisionist historian who is usually remembered for insisting, until an embarrassingly late date, that there had been no Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia; the item appears in the ever ambiguous Asia Times:

WASHINGTON - In sharp contrast to the lionization of General David Petraeus by members of the US Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (Centcom), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad in March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

There is no reason to doubt that Porter's report is fictionalized polemics, but we might note how closely it resembles the fiction about mutiny-minded naval commanders in Richard Clarke's novel, The Scorpion's Gate.

* * *

Conservatives like Patrick Buchanan have been criticized (by me, for instance)for lacking a geopolitical model. Now comes James P. Pinkerton, writing in the unambiguously loathsome American Conservation[Conservative BIE], with an essay entitled The Once & Future Christendom that perhaps seeks to make up the deficit:

With apologies to the frankenfood-fearers and polar bear-sentimentalizers, the biggest danger we face is the Clash of Civilizations, especially as we rub against the “bloody borders” of Islam...If this Muslimization befalls Europe, the consequences would be catastrophic for Americans as well. Although some neoconservatives, bitter at Old European “surrender monkeys,” might be quietly pleased at the prospect, the fact is that a Salafist Surge into the heart of Europe...would be a psychic wound that would never heal, not across the great sward of America, not even in the carpeted think-warrens of the American Enterprise Institute...So for better ideas, we might turn to J.R.R. Tolkien....we might make special note of his underlying political, even strategic, perspective. ...Tolkien counsels robust self-defense in one’s own area—the homeland, which he calls the Shire—even as he advocates an overall modesty of heroic ambition. ...So with Tolkien in mind, we might speak of the “Shire Strategy.” It’s simple: the Shire is ours, we want to keep it, and so we must defend it. Yet by the same principle, since others have their homelands and their rights, we should leave them alone, as long as they leave us alone...Tolkien once confided, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” That is, Catholic in the sense that reality and history are complicated, that the world is rich in majesty and mystery, that human nature is but a poor vessel. In his world, the Shire is Christendom, and Christendom is the Shire...

Actually, in Middle Earth the analogue of Christendom is the United Kingdom of Gondor and Eriador, which is a reimagining of the Holy Roman Empire, which, like the European Union and the United Nations, was an expression of the primordial insistence in Western culture on universal polity.

By and by in Pinkerton's piece, we do learn that a new Christendom could include everywhere but East Asia, India, and Islam under a new Caliphate; the last of these would be surrounded by high walls. Neo-Christendom might be guided in emergencies by a "Council of Christendom," modeled on the Council of Elrond.

Might I suggest that conservatives give more thought to conserving things? It's too late in the evolution of the international system to replace its key institutions with new ones built from scratch. Go with what you have.

* * *

The story seems to change every week! Will Earth survive the gas-giant phase of solar evolution or won't it?:

About five billion years from now, astronomers say, the Sun will run out of hydrogen fuel and swell temporarily more than 100 times in diameter into a so-called red giant, swallowing Mercury and Venus and dooming life on Earth, but perhaps not Earth itself.

Astronomers are announcing that they have discovered a planet that seems to have survived the puffing up of its home star, suggesting there is some hope that Earth could survive the aging and swelling of the Sun.

The newly discovered planet is a gas giant at least three times as massive as Jupiter. It orbits about 150 million miles from a faint star in the constellation Pegasus known as V 391 Pegasi. But before that star blew up as a red giant sometime in the past and lost half its mass, the planet must have been about as far from its star as the Earth is to the Sun — about 90 million miles — the astronomers led by Roberto Silvotti of the Observatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy, calculated.

....A particularly dangerous time for Earth, Dr. Silvotti said, would be at the end of the red giant phase when the Sun’s helium ignites in an explosive flash. In the case of V 391 Pegasi, that explosion sent a large fraction of the star’s mass flying outward.

During the era of solar retreat, there would be a brief period when Earth is back in the habitable zone. I seem to recall that Poul Anderson wrote a story about a world (a colonized one) in such an era. If the astrophysicists would just get their story straight, maybe we could see some more.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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